What do you do when you have a bad or good travelling experience when you have a disability?

I have been very lucky that despite my asthma I have been able to travel (mainly to attend conferences). I have travelled via a variety of different methods: train, plane and taxis.

Thanks to the hidden disability lanyard I have been very fortunate in the treatment I have received in airports. I have also been able to use it on trains but now that I am walking with a stick I have noticed people come up to me more to offer help or get up from seats and give me theirs.

I decided to write this blog after some time to think as at the time I was angry, humiliated and really not thinking in a constructive manner. I am now thinking about how to change this negative experience I had into a positive one.

In September I went to Madrid to attend the European Respiratory Society Congress. The travel out was spot on. Arriving at the airport I had my sunflower lanyard on and was helped with my bags at check in and offered the use of a wheelchair to get me up and through security. I declined as I knew I would be seated for a large portion of the day so wanted to take the opportunity to get some walking done.

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The one point that most people dread when going through the airport is security. I know I do. Having a hidden and visible disability and wearing my sunflower lanyard I went up to the special assistance gate at security. An officer asked me if I needed some help. I accepted and she helped me take my laptop and then medical supplies and put them in the trays. She then escorted me to the bit where you walk through the scanner. She explained that they needed to put stick through the X-ray but they had a wooden stick for me to use while I got through the scanner myself. Due to my inability to walk without my shoes and splint on, they made other arrangements and swabbed my shoes, provided a chair for me to sit on while they did this and also stayed with me to help me put everything back in my bag and make sure I was ok.

Boarding the plane was the next challenge. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head. Dreading the thought that we might have to go on a bus to get to the plane and then climb up stairs to get into the plane. I was able to ask at the gate what the boarding situation would be. I was then asked to take a seat behind the gate where I was introduced to the crew and then told I would board the plane when the crew went on too.

It was all so seamless and almost had that too good to be true feeling. It was really refreshing to have such good service in what can be quite a stressful time. I have sent a compliment form into the the airport and BA who were the airline I was flying with.

On the way back the airport experience was polar opposite until I reached the gate to board the plane.

Arriving at security I once again had my sunflower lanyard on and went to the special assistance area for security. This is where I can only say I felt humiliated and felt like totally breaking down. No help was offered at all. I did asked for some help but this fell on deaf ears. The area was not particularly busy so I was shocked that my request was turned down. I sorted all my stuff and got my medication and medical devices out my bag and into a tray, pushed them up the line till they went through the X-ray. I then went to walk through the scanner and was greeted by a security officer who spoke good english and told I couldn’t take my stick through or wear my shoes or my splint. I asked if I could wait and they could go through then if I could be given them back so I could walk through. I was told no and then my hands were taken and I was just about dragged through the scanner, almost falling flat on my face. I was tripping over my foot as I cant move it myself and have no feeling below my knee. I was crying inside just wanting the ground to swallow me up, hating myself that as a young person I was being humiliated in such a way. I kept thinking I should be able to walk normally, I shouldn’t be in this situation. Once I had been dragged through the scanner, my hands were dropped and I was left to try and get myself to the trays with my stuff in and get myself sorted.

I managed to get myself sorted without totally breaking down. On the way out of security there was one of those things that has buttons asking me what my experience was like. I obviously pressed the button with the red sad face. A man then came an asked me why I pressed it. I gave a brief description of what happened and the man just nodded me. No offer of apology or anything.

I just pulled myself together and then joined the others I was travelling with, putting the experience behind me so no one would know just how upset I felt inside.

The rest of the travel home was seamless. I travelled home with Easyjet and once again the staff were very helpful. Unfortunately the seat I was in was considered an emergency exit but they found me another seat which was actually a whole row so I could put my leg up.

After all of it I was so glad to get home and back in my own environment.

One thing I have learnt and looking back I would have done things differently. While in security at Madrid airport I would have advocated for myself. I would have stood my ground and made sure my needs were met rather than be humiliated as I was. I wish at the time I had been able to stand up for myself but I was caught by surprise so I guess I was really shocked. You don’t expect it.

In future I will be prepared. I will have a written explanation of why I need the stick, that I cant walk without it or without my splint, and also what my medical conditions are. I will have this all written in the language of where I am going to. I will also use other communication cards in the language of the country I am going to. I want to be prepared and I don’t want to go through this experience again. I also don’t want others to have this experience as it really destroyed me, my confidence in travelling solo with no support has dwindled. I should be able to travel Im a young person who wants to experience life not be humiliated and shamed into not wanting to travel only own again.

If anything can come from this experience it is that I have learnt more to advocate for myself and also use my situation to prevent others having similar experiences.

No wonder asthmatics don’t go to hospital early!

One of my previous posts I titled as the most terrifying experience. At the time I thought it was, but sadly it was not and last week it went to a whole new level of scariness.

I had not been discharged long but I needed up needing to go back to hospital.

It all started well. I was seen in resus and after a few hours was stabilised with IV Magnesium, IV Salbutamol, IV Hydrocortisone and lots of nebulisers driven by oxygen. All was going well. My care plan was being followed and all going well. Maybe a little to well!! Coming out of resus was where it all went downhill and led to the worst time I have ever had.

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Being moved from resus to IC/HD is always a good move so when they said I was moving I was happy. It meant I was getting better and on the road to recovery. This was not the case this time. There was a plan in place for when I was moved. To continue on back to back nebs to keep on top of my attack but this was not done. I had to wait an hour and a half and ask over 6 times to get a neb to be told by a nurse I was fine and he was too busy and would come back to be later. By this time my blood pressure was rising my heart rate was rising and my oxygen was dropping. This was not the time to say I was fine and he would come back to me. I felt the nurse didnt think I was ill. I thought he thought that because I was young I would be ok. I was not ok. I was terrified. It was harder and harder to breathe and I thought by going in early I would be seen early and be back out again. I kept asking for nebulisers and not getting them. writing it like that makes it sound like I was unhappy because I was not getting what I wanted but it was far from it. I was desperate for a neb. My chest was getting tight and I really couldn’t breathe. On top of that I was scared and thinking all this stuff about what might happen. Eventually I got to see a Dr who questioned why I had not had the nebs etc I was meant to. I felt relief at being given a neb but also because I thought the plan would be followed again.

I got two nebs but after that it all slipped away again. I tried to tell the nurse about my care plan but was told he didnt need to see it and wasn’t his concern. I kept asking for nebs but was being told he was too busy. I am sure he was busy but all the times he told me he was busy would have taken up more time than actually giving me a neb and the amount of time he had to look after me in the long run. I ended up using my own supply of nebules to treat myself as I felt so scared and want to get better. By this time I had had enough. I tried to get up so I could get dressed but I fell and really hurt my knee but at this point a combination of lethargy, fear, tiredness and the effects of the asthma attack were taking their toll and I decided it was time to self discharge myself. It was rash but I felt it necessary. It got the attention I needed and the Dr came over to see me with the nurse in tow. I also ended up being reviewed by intensive care. I told the nurse that this was all on him and if I went to ITU or had a prolonged admission it was on him and I strongly believe it was. His attitude was horrible and it has made me really question going into hospital and getting help. If I saw him again as I came into A&E I would refuse to go in as I really thought I may not get out of A&E in his hands.

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After falling and threatening to self discharge I was moved through to the assessment unit where I was in such a state they wanted to give me lorazepam to calm me down. Thankfully the Dr had been filled in on what had happened and knew I just needed out of A&E and I would be ok and they were right. The rest of the admission was fairly uneventful but I shall blog about it another time.

I wanted to concentrate on my experience in A&E. I have had so much time to think about it and the consequences of it. A few years ago the national review of asthma deaths was published highlighting the shocking statistics of asthma death and admissions to hospital. From this I tried my hardest to make sure I was very proactive with my treatment and get help quickly to as to make asthma less of a killer than it is. How can we do this if asthma is not taken seriously in hospital where it is meant to be safe and you are meant to be looked after.

I am lucky in that I have been to hospital a lot and luckily never had such an experience and I knew what I needed. What would have happened had I been new to asthma or not known what was happening. I was able to self medicate to make sure I was ok but others may not have been so lucky and the statistics would just get worse. 

The support I have received from Drs, and the respiratory nurses has been fantastic and I have had the help to come to terms with what has happened and also will get the help to put a complaint in about the treatment I received. It is important that feed back is given because if I have been so scarred by events imagine what someone else could have been. They may have taken themselves out of A&E and died from not getting help for their asthma. Its important to get the message out and get people to see how serious asthma is.

I have never made a complaint to a hospital about the treatment I received but I feel this time it is so important that I do for a number of reasons. I was still trying to come to terms with my previous hospital admission and how I went down hill so quickly in a safe environment, I also had lacrosse trials of Scotland and it was my 30th birthday which I had a number of plans for. All of which I missed as a result of the poor care I was given. I may be unfairly putting all the blame on one person and that person being the nurse but to me it is no
t unfair. The way in which I was spoken to and the lack of respect and care I was given has left a huge black mark and really scarred me. For my own sanity I need to deal with this and make it known what happened and what is being done to resolve it.

It will take a lot for me to get my confidence back and feel safe going to A&E again. I know I will have to go back to A&E at some point and the whole reason I do everything about raising awareness for asthma is to changes opinions of asthma and get people getting help early by taking it seriously. If I don’t feel confident and don’t go to hospital for help then I am a hypocrite and should stop doing all the raising awareness and campaigning I do.

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As you can tell this has left a really black mark on me and I will get over it but it will take time. I do want to add that as a nurse myself I do understand how busy days/nights can get and we can’t do everything the patient wants us to do but when you see them laughing and joking and talking about nights out standing round the computer it is fair to see and hear they are not as busy as they are saying and when I see them as a patient doing this it makes me really angry.

I would hate to be in this situation again which is why I am going to share it with everyone I can. I could have gone home but I managed to stay and ended up receiving some of the best care I have had and did get better. I was not able to trial for lacrosse, or be at home for my birthday or go to any of the planned meals etc but I am now home and will enjoy that.

For now I will continue in the work I am doing to make sure that asthma is taken seriously and awareness raised.

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